Active Learning Glossary

The Science Literacy Program explores a variety of active learning techniques including those listed here. Each technique below is listed along with a short description and a link to a citation or group of citations to provide a more detailed exploration of the technique.  We encourage our affiliated instructors to use several of these techniques in their course design.


Asking Open-ended Questions A question without a correct answer is asked and students have an opportunity to answer freely.  May be paired with think-pair-share, one-minute paper, or class discussion. (Tanner, 2013)

Brainstorming Students are asked to create a list of terms or ideas with a moderator collecting the list in a location visible to others.  May take place in a large class setting or in smaller groups. (Handelsman, Miller, & Pfund, 2007)

Case Studies Students work through a scenario that places some science content in a real or imagined situation.  Students may be asked to solve a problem, create and test a hypothesis, or identify a solution. Case Study References

Clickers A type of personal response system that permits real-time, in-class assessment of student learning with multiple-choice responses. Answers may be graded and/or integrated with student discussion. Individual responses are anonymous to other students, but are identified in the instructor’s data. Clicker References

Comics Visuals are used to support student learning either through creation or reading of content material in comic format. Comics References

Concept Mapping Activity where students identify key terms or concepts, create a meaningful pattern, and then use directional arrows explain relationships between the terms. (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010 ; Handelsman, Miller, & Pfund, 2007)

C.R.E.A.T.E.  A structured reading approach where students do a close reading of a scientific article and are asked step-by-step to Consider, Read, Elucidate hypotheses, Analyze and interpret the data, and Think of the next Experiment using concept maps, writing, and discussion. (Hoskins, 2010)

External Brains Before class students are asked to complete an assignment that will be built on during class time.  May be used for open-book portions of exams.

Field Trips Students and instructional staff visit a location outside the classroom demonstrates topics that cannot be visualized in class. Field trips may be on-campus or off-campus. (Donaghy & Saxton, 2012)

Flipped Classroom Students learn new course content outside of class through reading or short video lectures (screen-casts).  Class time is spent doing activities that deepen and reinforce knowledge, for example having students do problem solving with the instructional faculty during course time. (Ho, 2013)

Games Structure material into a game to increase attention and engagement. The game can include multiple levels with individual challenges (such as trivia questions) or tasks (such as identifications, measurements, or other tasks.) Games can include rewards or prizes to incentivize students. Games References

Garage Demos Demonstrations put together with ordinary household objects to illustrate a principle.  Students may have an opportunity to participate (people demos) and/or describe what they see. (O’Dowd & Aguilar-Roca, 2009)

Hand Raising Ask students to raise their hands to answer questions rather than answer freely.  Allows for keeping track of students who have or have not participated. (Tanner 2013)

In-class Problem Solving Using previously acquired knowledge (either in or out of class), students work individually or in groups to solve problems specific to the course content. (Black, 1993)

Interactive Lecture Demonstrations A method of presenting lecture demonstrations in which students are asked to make and discuss predictions of the outcome of the demonstrations prior to their being carried out.  Following the demonstration, the students compare the results of the demonstration with the predictions they made, and then attempt to explain the observed phenomena. (Sokoloff & Thornton, 1997)

Just-in-Time Teaching Shortly before class, students are asked to complete an activity based on reading or other resources.  The instructor then uses the student responses to adapt in-class instruction as needed. Just-in-Time-Teaching Reference

Learn Before Lecture Students are asked to complete an activity and assessment before class.  This may be a video or reading followed with a short quiz or writing assignment. (Moravec, Williams, Aguilar-Roca, & O’Dowd, 2010)

Lecture Method of presenting material to class that focuses on knowledge transfer. (Mazur, 1996)

Music Instructors can use music to set the tone of the class and help students relax. Music can also be used to illustrate a concept in a different format.  Working in small groups, students can write their own lyrics and perform them in front of the class. Music References

One-minute Papers In class activity where students are asked an open-ended question and asked to write about it.  May be used to illustrate a “muddiest point” or used to start a class discussion. (Tanner, 2013)

Peer Instruction Umbrella term to describe several types of in-class activities where students work together to solve problems.  Could be part of a specific type of student engagement such as workshop replacing lecture, guided-inquiry laboratory, course discussion, POGIL, or SCALE-UP. Peer Instruction References

POGIL (Process Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning) a method of peer learning that started in chemistry departments with students working in small groups in pre-assigned roles. (Yezierski et al., 2008)

Portfolios/Journals/Blogs/Discussion Boards Using an online forum, students write answers to an open-ended question, reading question, or form their own questions.  Responses may be available to other students to comment or only available to the instructors. Technology References

Pre/Post-Questions Students are asked the same content or conceptual questions before and after a lesson. (Miller, 2013)

Problem-Based Learning Students work in groups to examine and solve a problem. The group identifies the information they already know and the information they need to know to find a solution. Together, they work to access the needed information and then propose a solution. The instructor acts as a facilitator through guiding and monitoring the process. (Rao & DiCarlo, 2000)

Scaffolding Supporting student learning by providing a framework with basic knowledge so they can add on complexity and higher order thinking. (Ambrose, Bridges, DiPietro, Lovett, & Norman, 2010)

Screen-casted Videos Recorded capturing movement and sound on a computer and posted as a video to supplement class material.  May include animations, still images, writing, and/or voice-over. (Ho, 2013)

Service Learning As part of their course work, students participate in teaching or volunteering outside of the classroom.  Examples may include working at a K-12 classroom, social service, or government agency directly related to course content. Service Learning References

Strip Sequence Steps to a process are jumbled and taken out of order, and students are asked to put them into the correct order. (Handelsman, Miller, & Pfund, 2007)

Student Discussion Providing students with an opportunity to talk and discuss a problem in small groups or as a whole class. (McClanahan & McClanahan, 2002)

Think-Pair-Share An in-class activity where students are asked to consider a question and write an individual response, pair up with a neighbor to discuss, and then report back as part of a larger class discussion. (Rao & DiCarlo, 2000)

Whip Around After a question is asked each student in the class is expected to share a response.  May be used for observation questions or more complex conceptual idea.  (Tanner, 2013)